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133                                                                                                    B- POLEVOI
leaves on the cracked earth lay enormous striped melons
that were famous all over Volga region—he heard, and
then saw, a small silvery dragon-fly, its double wings
glistening in the sun, gliding slowly over the dusty
steppe somewhere in the direction of Stalingrad.
From that moment the dream of becoming an airman
had never left him. His mind was filled with it during
the lessons at school, and later, when he operated a lathe
in a factory. At night, when everybody was asleep, he and
the famous airman Lyapidevsky found and rescued the
Chelyuskin expedition, and with Vodopyanov he landed
heavy aircraft on the pack ice at the North Pole, and
with Chfcalov opened the unexplored air route to the
United States across the Pole.
The Young Communist League sent him to the Far
East and there he helped to build the city of youth in
the taiga—Komsomolsk-on-the-Amur—but he carried his
dream of flying even to that distant place. Among the
builders of the city, he found young men and women like
himself, who also dreamed of flying, and it was hard
to believe that with their own hands they actually built
an air club for themselves in that city, which in those
days existed only in blueprints. In the evenings, when
mist enveloped the huge construction project, the builders
would withdraw into their barracks, close the windows
and light smoky fires of damp twigs outside the doors to
drive away the swarms of mosquitoes and gnats which
filled the air with a sinister, high-pitched buzzing. At
that hour, when all the other builders were resting after
the day's labours, the members of the air club, led by
Alexei, their bodies smeared with kerosene which was
supposed to keep the mosquitoes and gnats away, went
into the taiga with axes, picks, saws, spades and T.N.T.
There they felled trees, blew up tree stumps and levelled
the ground to win space from the taiga for an airfield.
And they won this space, tearing several kilometres out
of the virgin forest with their own hands.
^ It was from that airfield that Alexei soared into the
air for the first time in a training craft, at last realising
the dream of his boyhood.
Later, he studied at an army aviation school and be-
came an instructor himself. He was at this school when